BEMIDJI – Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore had said before Sunday’s exhibition game against Manitoba that the Beavers’ freshman class would be playing a big role.
Those freshmen stepped up in a big way.
Cory Ward and Brad Robbins each scored, Phil Brewer notched an assist and Fabian Sivnert made a key third-period save to help preserve BSU’s 3-3 overtime tie with the Bisons Sunday evening at the Sanford Center.
“It was a good first game,” Serratore said. “You take a look at who was out of our lineup, and I thought our guys responded well. A lot of our guys got some experience tonight, and they had some success scoring, so I think overall it was a success.”
BSU senior captain Ben Kinne didn’t dress for Sunday’s game; and neither did forward Jordan George, defenseman Brady Wacker or goaltender Andrew Walsh.
“These guys have played a lot of hockey for us, they have a lot of experience,” Serratore said. “We just wanted to get our younger guys some experience, wanted to get them in some different situations. It was very important to throw some guys in the fire.”
Serratore’s plan worked well.
Senior Jake Areshenko, an alternate captain, said the youngsters passed their first test.
“They did pretty well,” he said. “It’s the first game of the season and we’ve only had two practices. It’s definitely an adjustment from junior hockey, so they did well.
“Guys just need to get on the ice, get playing, get their feet moving and get up to speed. Obviously junior hockey is not as fast as college hockey so I think they did well adjusting.”
Robbins, a freshman from Murrieta, Calif., didn’t waste much time adjusting.
He notched his first goal as a Beaver just 3:22 into the game. He took a feed from Tyler Tosunian and one-timed it past the left shoulder of Manitoba goalie Jesse Deckert.
That lead held for the first half of the game, as senior Mathieu Dugas shut down the Bisons in his 30 minutes of work, making 11 saves in a period and a half.
Dugas left the game midway through the second period to make way for Sivnert, a freshman from Sweden.
Sivnert’s first couple minutes in goal weren’t ideal.
Manitoba’s Del Cowan scored on Sivnert just 20 seconds after he entered the game. The Bisons added another goal three minutes later and went into the dressing room up 2-1 after two periods.
Serratore said he was happy with both his goaltenders, especially since Sivnert came into a tough situation.
“It wasn’t the easiest situation how he came in,” Serratore said. “Dugas played very well, then (Sivnert) comes in and is scored on right away. That’s tough, but he responded at the end there. He saved it for us, no question there.”
Sivnert gave up all three Manitoba goals, but his glove save on Cowan with just over three minutes to go in regulation rescued the game for BSU.
With the game tied at 3-3, Cowan picked up a loose puck near center ice and had Sivnert in a one-on-one situation. He tried to chip it with a backhand but Sivnert raised his left hand and caught it to deny Cowan.
Earlier in the period, another freshman had tied the game to give the Beavers a boost.
Ward, from Las Vegas, notched the equalizer at 4:43 with help from Radoslav Illo.
Sophomore Danny Mattson put the Beavers ahead again – briefly – at 10:32, wristing a shot past new Bisons goalie Deven Dubyk.
Another freshman, Phil Brewer, got the credit for the assist, meaning four of the six members of the BSU freshman class logged in the score sheet Sunday. Markus Gerbrandt and James Hansen also played significant minutes for BSU.
Manitoba added another goal at 12:27, and after Sivnert’s big save the team went to overtime, where they skated to a 3-3 tie after five minutes.
“I think we all competed hard, worked hard,” Areshenko said. “For the rookies, I think they’re up to speed now, they know what it’s about.”
Robbins said he was relieved to get that first game out of the way.
“It’s nice to get back and play an organized hockey game instead of just practice, practice, practice,” he said. “Practice shape and game shape is a completely different story. After the first period, you’re starting to get everything back. All your skills come back. So it’s nice to get back into game shape.”
The Beavers have one more exhibition game (Saturday against the USA Under-18 National Team) before opening the season Oct. 19-20 against Lake Superior State.
Serratore said playing a physical Manitoba team will be a great benefit for BSU down the stretch.
“The start of the season, you can practice all you want, you can condition all you want, but this is the kind of stuff you have to play in game situations,” he said. “There’s a lot of traffic out there, and it’s not easy. Even if you think you’re in good shape, when you’re getting banged on for 60 minutes it’s a little different. The guys needed that. They needed to get into a situation where there was a lot of congestion, a lot of physicality. They responded pretty well against a good hockey team.”